A conversation with Beth Gordon, the author of Kuiper J. Doggo’s Instagram @spacewhippet
I had the pleasure of interviewing Beth Gordon, the author of Kuiper J. Doggo’s Instagram @spacewhippet. Kuiper is one of the fastest dogs in the United States, literally leading the pack in the 100-yard sprint. When he is not running full-tilt or asleep on the couch, he enjoys obedience, agility and posing for pictures in return for cheese. Recently, a suspiciously similar-looking superhero named Captain Dogmerica has started taking a stand for American values.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
Thank you! I created an Instagram account for my whippet puppy Kuiper a little over a year ago. I originally simply wanted to learn about social media marketing and have a dedicated place to spam puppy pictures. While researching places to take my dog for photographs, I kept stumbling across fascinating slices of history, e.g. the Apollo 14 moon trees. These stories were just too cool not to share. After taking a cross-country roadtrip with Kuiper last summer and visiting places like the Women’s Air and Space Museum and the International Forest of Friendship, I was hooked.
Most of what I share is fairly non-controversial, e.g. “look, a steam locomotive!” but occasionally I will post about a heavier topic (like the WWII Japanese-American internment camps) because I believe it is too important not to share. Particularly with more difficult subjects, my desire is to come across as both non-partisan and patriotic. In my mind, part of being a patriot is understanding that history is complicated, and that we can always do better. There’s a lot of research that goes into every post; I dig until I find primary sources whenever possible.
After reading about the trauma being inflicted upon young families seeking asylum to the United States, particularly the removal of children from their parents with the excuse that they are being taken “for a bath,” I had to do something. I decided it was time to step up and make a donation to the ACLU. With Kuiper’s 26K followers on Instagram (most of whom are in the US), I figured there was a chance to double the impact by offering to match others’ donations.
Can you tell me about the most interesting projects you are working on now?
I quit my job last month after nearly a decade in corporate tech and am in the process of deciding what’s next (I’m thinking I might explore Route 66!) In the meantime, I want to continue to use Instagram to educate and inspire, but I also want to start encouraging my audience to more actively participate in that. To that end, I just launched a small fundraising campaign for the ACLU.
So how exactly does your platform help people?
In my experience, Instagram is a unique platform. It can be a really nice escape from Facebook, Twitter, etc. because it is easier to narrow your feed to, say, dog pictures, or food, or interior design. Unlike with Facebook, I’ve never met most of the people I interact with.
Although we’re raising money for the ACLU right now, not all help is as easily quantifiable. I think a lot of people feel pretty isolated today. They are yearning to feel a sense of community, and that is something I am trying to provide in my own teeny tiny way, i.e. “Come along for the ride, and we’ll learn together! I’m as surprised as you that Thomas Jefferson was so intensely fond of mastodons!”
Can you tell me a story about a person that you helped?
One of the best messages I’ve ever received said, “I forgot how much fun learning about [space] was for me and I’ve decided to start diving back in and start studying more and I’m so stoked honestly. 🤙😀 ”
It means a lot to me that I’m helping to connect and reconnect people to subjects that I’m so passionate about. I’m honestly stoked, too, and reading comments like this makes me want to keep writing. I’m hoping we’ll also be able to help people with the fundraiser, even if we don’t ever get to hear their individual stories.
This obviously is not easy work. What drives you?
Besides the fact that Kuiper likes going places and posing for cheese, a lot of it is a rediscovered love of learning. Growing up, I thought history was SO. BORING. Turns out it’s not! I’ve only recently started to appreciate how valuable it is for us to understand our past in order to make informed choices in our present.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
Here are are three things I would like to see:
- Social media, and the extent to which it influences public opinion, need to be taken far, far more seriously. It’s how more and more people are interacting and getting their news, but it is currently seen as less important than traditional media.
- Treat others with compassion. It’s easy to forget there’s a person behind that Twitter account or to ignore news reports about the things happening at the border. We have to rise above that.
- For everyone, find tangible ways to contribute to democracy and go for broke. Even tiny things matter. Call your senator. Help someone register to vote. Raise money for a non-profit. Make Captain Dogmerica proud.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
My partner Brian has been incredibly good-natured and supportive of this endeavor. My friend Hannah (@maggielovesorbit) has been invaluable for insights regarding Instagram marketing.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Sometimes things just won’t work out, but that’s ok. We had planned on getting a shot of Kuiper with the shiny bean in Chicago based on the (erroneous) assumption that dogs would be permitted in Millenium Park. We got kicked out a few steps in. Oops.
- Don’t be afraid to travel and explore alone (or just with your dog.) I drove about ⅔ of my 7,500 mile trip last summer solo, and never felt unsafe. Kuiper and I managed to visit some seriously cool places, like this house made of dinosaur bones.
- If you’re trying to market yourself, make data driven decisions but don’t spend too much time worrying about articles that claim to know e.g. “the hidden secrets of the new Instagram algorithm!!!” The algo changes all the time, and it’s all driven by 24/7 machine learning. Your audience will show you what content they like the best.
- Even if the only camera you have is a smartphone, if it can shoot in RAW, do it. You will thank yourself later. I now have a mirrorless, but I took a number of pictures last summer with my phone that I could have salvaged if I had shot RAW
- Calls to action are important, but you should also try to nail down what you want your reader’s key takeaway to be. How do you want your reader to feel? How do you expect they will respond? Don’t be afraid to share a personal story once in awhile. Keep in mind that a great following means great responsibility. Use your powers for good!!
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see just see this. :-)
I would love to meet Jennifer Hale. I’m a big fan of her voice work, and she seems like a really cool lady (I hear she loves animals, too.)
Also, to anyone who works at a museum (big or small!), observatory, NASA, or any other interesting place that doesn’t traditionally allow dogs: I would love to get permission to bring Kuiper to visit and share what you’ve got going on with my readers. Kuiper is extremely well-behaved and very sweet; we’ve been training him for high level competition obedience since he was tiny. Have dog, will travel.